Thinking Out Loud

May 4, 2012

Why Albert Mohler Should Retire

…It’s a much more polite post title than the one I originally considered…

Another Evangelical leader has proven this week that when Evangelical leaders reach a certain age they seem to go a little bit off, not unlike bakery products that have a best before date, or as they say in the UK, a sell-by date.  And the manner in which they go a little bit off is to attack their own.

We have already mentioned here the travesty of Jack Van Impe insisting that Rick Warren has bedded down with Muslims to fuse some new brand of faith he calls Chrislam.

This time it’s SBC theological president Albert Mohler, Jr. on his blog accusing Andy Stanley as supporting gay marriage.

Well, first let me qualify that. Albert Mohler’s blog is not a blog in the sense most people use that term. There is no place for comments, for dialogue, for interaction. True, he gives an email address, but…

We begin with Christianity Today:

Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”

That tension can be seen at North Point after sermons on remarriage after divorce, which people hate to hear but are glad they did, he said. It also exists for gay members, who have left predominantly gay churches for North Point because they want more Bible teaching, but are nervous about how welcome they’ll be, he said.

In trying to love like Jesus does, the church can also seem inconsistent and leave people wondering what they’re really about, Stanley said.

You can watch the sermon in question here, select part five (April 15th).

This is a good place to mention that Andy Stanley is considered one of the finest communicators in the United States.  He chooses his words very carefully, and he is what I consider a very wise man. He obviously wants to continue to living in the tension(s) he described that Sunday.

But while Mohler has Stanley in his sites from the very beginning, he couches his rhetoric with a vague academic church history lesson about megachurches in America. Apparently size matters, and not in a good way. Megachurches breed liberalism in Mohler’s view. Logically then, smaller churches should be fertile ground for orthodoxy. In some bizarre parallel universe, perhaps.

The Christian Post quotes Rick Warren demanding an apology from Mohler on this front:

A prominent evangelical’s recent blog headline – “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” – has irked Pastor Rick Warren, who is calling for an apology for the “sensational” title.

Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, sent a tweet to Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, saying: “A TITLE questioning1000s of churches’ orthodoxy due to size is unChristlike.U need to apologize to pastors Al.” …

…Taking issue with the title of the blog, Warren commented: “@albertmohler Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”

In response, Mohler tweeted back: “@RickWarren Glad to hear from you, Rick. I would certainly not be offended by that title … In fact, I might use it. Megathanks.”

Where does Mohler derive such arrogance?

But church size is a red herring in this story.  As a somewhat biased fan of Andy Stanley, I had to weigh in at the CT piece:

I had been a consumer of Andy’s video teachings for at least five years prior to becoming a regular follower of NorthPointOnline about three years ago, and was watching live when this illustration happened. I think anyone who has had this type of exposure knows Andy’s heart and and tenor of his ministry.

Just as we’re told that Jesus’ parables should be interpreted only to say ‘one thing,’ so also should this illustration only be evaluated in terms of its primary purpose. You can’t condemn a sermon for what it did not say, or every sermon preached would have to contain a compendium of Christian doctrine and ethics.

Mohler described the resolution of the story Andy Stanley told his congregation. 

…He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.

Note Mohler’s use of the word “celebrated.” This is where you see most clearly that you cannot trust what this man is writing. “Celebrated” is a calculated value-laden word which simply doesn’t describe the proper context.  At CT, I continued:

The reference to the TV show “Modern Family” was not giving endorsement to that type of family dynamic; the family in the illustration is simply reflective of the times, and the television reference immediately connected with the audience. That family is also a work in progress, an unfinished story in which the operation of grace and truth will hopefully continue to unfold.

Dan White, Jr. was another CT respondent who felt that Stanley was deliberately walking a fine line on this issue:

…Currently in our political culture of communication the non-negotiable’s are:  1. Define what camp you fall into,  2. Demonize anybody who does not fit squarely into your camp,  3.  Apply debate techniques not active listening and 4. Defend/clarify your position at all costs.  I believe this style of discourse is more secularism than it is biblical. 

I listened to Andy Stanley’s message.  He taught the principle that the tension of Grace and Truth sometimes makes things unclear, ambiguous and complicated.  Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times Jesus seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”   Listening to Stanley’s conservative critics, I’m not sure they see Jesus this way.  I’m not sure they’ve dealt with the way Jesus was perceived by his listeners. 

Jesus spoke in parables and in Matthew 13:34 he makes the point that “Jesus did not say anything without using parables.”   Why would Jesus indulge in short artistic fictional stories to convey such essential messages? Each parable would often end with the refrain “whoever has ears let him hear.” Each parable would often include a hidden message that would be accessible to some and confusing to others.  At one point the disciples share their frustration “Why do you speak in parables?” As if to say “Jesus why are you doing this? Your telling stories but nobody is getting your point, can you find a clearer more obvious approach?”   What the disciples did not understand was Jesus was intentionally enticing people into new territory.

Jesus was not offering easy answers and doctrinal points, he was inviting people into an interactive relationship. He said listen with your ears which meant listen to the deeper meaning.  Don’t listen for the literal meaning, seek deeper for meaning that requires a sincere effort of your imagination and a personal investment.

Is it ever Ok to be ambiguous?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes was.  Is it ever O.K. to come across unclear in order to lay the trust-bricks that relationships require?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes did.  Is it ever O.K. to not give a Yes or No to the “is it a sin” question because the history of the question is so convoluted with agendas?  I believe Jesus sometimes did for the sake of the larger mission and the loaded context of religiosity.  Sure this tension is a harder tightrope to walk.  Some call it the slipper-slope; I call it fighting for balance  This is the very reason why many are not comfortable with the third way of navigating through culture.  It’s much easier to just park firmly in an ideological camp and harp on your doctrinal talking points over and over.  Instead Jesus often models a way of being that is beyond what sin issue is served up to Him.

 Much of the conservative backlash to Andy Stanley’s presentation seems to be intoxicated with anxiety by whatever the hot sin issue is at this time…

There is one redemptive paragraph in Mohler’s conclusions:

Given their size and influence, the megachurches have an outsize responsibility. I am a member and a teaching pastor in a megachurch, and I am thankful for its faithfulness. I know a host of faithful megachurch pastors who are prepared to pay whatever cost may come for the sake of the Gospel…

On that, at least we agree. Where we differ is that I know of one faithful megachurch pastor who fails to make Mohler’s list. And we differ more violently on the need to make such unwarranted pronouncements.  Some opinions are best kept to oneself.

…I spoke with a pastor about this a few months ago who expressed his concerns about people whose ministry seems to be going along well and then they, in his words, “start losing it.” That’s when I wrote this piece about knowing when to quit.

One sure sign is when we start shooting at our own soldiers. If Mohler isn’t ready to enjoy retirement in Palm Springs, he should at the very least quit the blog that isn’t a blog.  The CT article concluded:

Stanley declined repeated requests for comment.

That’s the type of wisdom Albert Mohler, Jr. should have employed from the very beginning.


Update: Missed this one yesterday: For some additional commentary on the tension between grace and truth as it relates to this story, be sure to check out the article by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk, and the 150 (so far) comments.

…What an incredible illustration of God’s scandalous grace in action. Yet Mohler misses this entirely. He misses grace in his headlong race to be sure that Andy Stanley understands right and wrong. Mohler writes,

…We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.

No, it seems we must come on Al Mohler’s terms….

[HT: Clark.]

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